When the heat of summer arrives, fashionistas break out their white clothes, and we foodies break out our white wines. Not just any whites. We avoid the powerful, oaky chardonnays with full body and lots of alcohol, and look to whites that are light and bright.
And we break some traditional wine rules in drinking them.
We want them low in alcohol, because alcohol makes us feel hot. So we like whites that are 11 percent alcohol, sometimes as low as 7 percent.
We drink them refreshingly cool, even down to 40 degrees – cooler than big reds, even cooler than regular whites.
If no one’s looking, we might glance around nervously and drop an ice cube or three in the glass. Many producers don’t mind. The makers of “Opera Prima” Sparkling Moscato recommend serving it “well-chilled.” Barefoot Cellars gives us permission to serve its “Crisp White Wine” over ice with a wedge of lime.
We often like a bit of sweetness in the wines, to go with simple summer foods – fresh fruit, grilled veggies, fruit salads, potato salads, sandwiches, simple shellfish or other seafood. A sparkling prosecco is great with cold fried chicken. Or takeout containers of Chinese food.
Often distracted by beach, mountain or backyard grill, we treat these wines casually. We drink them outdoors, where the wind would blow away any hifalutin aromas in any case.
And we don’t cellar these wines for long aging. Carpe diem is the rule. When the leaves fall, it’ll be time for heartier, redder wines.
Some of the nicest summer whites are from grapes that are less familiar to us than the standard chards and cabs. Here’s a glossary of some of those grapes, plus tasting notes on the wines they make.
Summer white grapes
Airen: This is a simple white grape widely planted in Spain’s La Mancha region, adding light body and crisp acids to white wine blends.
Albarino: A popular white grape of Spain’s northern Galicia region, it makes light-bodied, crisp wines that range from floral to steely.
Caino blanco: Also from Galicia, this crisp, mineral-scented grape adds green apple zing to albarino in white blends.
Chenin blanc: Native to France’s Loire Valley, it makes light-bodied white wines with flavors of citrus, melon, honey and spice. It’s often slightly sweet.
Glera: This light-skinned variety is the grape of prosecco. The wines can be dry to lightly sweet, with light to lively sparkle.
Loureiro: Grown in Galicia, it adds crispness and ripe apricot and pear flavors when blended with albarino and other white grapes.
Macabeo: A major grape in Spain’s popular sparkling wines called cavas (for the caves in which they are made), it’s crisp and lightly floral.
Moscato: A major white grape in northern Italy, it makes a low-alcohol, fizzy, spicy, citrus-flavored wine called Asti Spumante.
Muller Thurgau: Grown mostly in Germany, it’s a cross of two other white grapes, sylvaner and riesling. It’s light in body, dry to lightly sweet.
Parellada: Lively and crisp, it’s blended with macabeo and xarel-lo in Spain’s sparkling cava wines.
Verdejo: Grown in Spain, it makes a crisp, tart wine with citrus flavors.
Verdicchio: From Italy, it makes a light, crisp wine with fruity aromas and citrus flavors and a bitter almond finish.
Vermentino: Grown in Italy, it makes dry, crisp, spicy, low-alcohol wines with citrus and mineral flavors, often in blends with other white grapes.
Viognier: From France’s Rhone Valley, it has intense, spicy peach and vanilla aromas and flavors. It’s often used to add sweet fruit to leaner white wines.
Xarel-lo: It’s an extra-crisp white grape from Spain’s Catalonia region that gives tart flavors and backbone to cava.
Summer white wines
• Nonvintage Jaume Serra “Cristalino” Brut Cava (Spanish sparkling wine, 50 percent macabeo, 35 percent parellada, 15 percent xarel-lo, 11.5 percent alcohol): light and sweet and spritzy, with toasty aroma and flavors of sweet apples and minerals; $12.
• 2013 Terra d’Oro Winery Chenin Blanc/Viognier, Clarksburg, California (87 percent chenin blanc, 13 percent viognier, 12.5 percent alcohol): floral aromas, sweet flavors of ripe peaches, mangos and pineapples; $16.
• 2013 Vitiano Bianco Umbria White Wine, IGT Italy (50 percent vermentino, 50 percent verdicchio, 12.5 percent alcohol): crisp and dry, with aromas and flavors of lemons and golden apples; $12.
• 2012 Alois Lageder Muller Thurgau White Wine, Dolomiti, IGT Italy (100 percent müller thurgau, 12.5 percent alcohol): light and dry, with aromas and flavors of peaches and cinnamon; $15.
• 2012 Verderol Verdejo, by Bodegas Hijos de Alberto Gutierrez, Rueda, Spain (100 percent white verdejo, 12.9 percent alcohol): soft, light and dry, with aromas of and flavors of lemons and cloves; $10.
• 2013 Terras Gauda “O Rosal” White Wine, Rias Baixas, DO Spain (70 percent albarino, 15 percent loureiro, 15 percent caino blanco, 12.5 percent alcohol): sweet and rich, with flavors of peaches and minerals and crisp acids; $24.
Fred Tasker can be reached at email@example.com.